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New worlds meet after reorientation

BEFORE watching "Re-orientations," a joint theater production by Shanghai Drama Arts Center and performing companies from the UK, Sweden, India and France, I googled it. The "multilingual, multi-cultural and multi-media explosion of East meets West" made its debut in London's West End last month and UK theater critics' disappointed reactions left little to look forward to.

However, it turned out to be far beyond my expectations - probably because I understand both English and Chinese, the two main languages in the play besides Swedish and Kannada.

There are several strands to the story, all of which intertwine. It is about lost daughters - a young Chinese mother lost her baby daughter because of the preference for sons in rural China; an Indian middle-aged fisherman lost his daughter in the 2004 tsunami; and Julian Lucas, an English theater producer based in Shanghai, lost his daughter when she killed herself over a failed relationship.

Julian's estranged wife, Marie, a charity worker in India comes to Shanghai aboard an airplane with people from all walks of life - and the different strands begin to intertwine.

A side story tells of a Swedish couple who come to Shanghai to stage a play while struggling to find if there's still love between them. The actress bumps into Sammy, a rent boy, and enjoys their conversation despite the language barriers.

What I like about the story is that it showcases the dark sides of society, be it in a developing country or a developed one. In a poor, rural Chinese town, it can be the preference for boys; in a developing metropolitan city like Shanghai, it can be people's prejudice of homosexuals; while in a developed country like the UK, wealthy people choose to work for charity not to help others but to make themselves look good.

Apart from the overlapping story lines, another highlight of "Re-orientations" is the seamless mix of video, music, dance and body theater. Hectic, striking videos are projected as the backdrop to help the audience understand the story. All the actors - an international cast from five countries - dance. Sometimes they are a group of faceless dancers, their hands fluttering like butterfly's wings; sometimes a young ballerina performs "Swan Lake" while a complicated love story is unfolding; the Indian man's solo dance is extremely powerful, twirling round and round to express his deep grief.

Although it deals with dark topics, the play isn't serious throughout. There are comic parts such as the cabin scene, in which a group of people from different backgrounds try to communicate; and the way the Chinese man's sister tries to explain Chinese hospitality to Julian. In all, it is a play in which tears mix with laughter, a stage blend of "Lost in Translation" and "Babel."

This month also sees the premiere of two original plays, "Qian Duoduo" and "Curse of the Deserted." Both are adapted from popular namesake bestsellers.

"Qian Duoduo" deals with the hot topic of the day: shengnu, or leftover women, a term used to describe successful single young ladies who have passed the "best marriage age." Qian Duoduo, the youngest senior marketing manager in a Fortune 500 company, is one of them. As she's approaching 30, her mother forces her to go on all kinds of blind dates. Will she marry an ordinary man for an ordinary life, or will she still wait for true love to come?

"Curse of the Deserted" is the first detective play written by a Chinese author to have been brought to the stage. According to author Cai Jun, it offers an innovative approach to the "whodunit" plays, such as those by Agatha Christie. It is about four college students' adventures in a deserted village. Most recently, the story has also been adapted into a film starring famous Chinese actress Zhang Yuqi.

"Qian Duoduo"

Date: October 14-November 7 (closed on Mondays), 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-120 yuan


Date: through October 17, 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan

Tel: 6473-0123

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

"Curse of the Deserted"

Date: through October 17, 7:30pm

Tickets: 120-280 yuan

Tel: 6422-0926

Venue: Xinguang Arts Center, 586

Ningbo Rd


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